Thursday, April 2, 2015

Why I am [Still] Never Again Going to Submit to a Poetry Contest

I have talked about this before, but I think it bears repeating her, now, April 2015, NaPoWriMo. So, hang on and respond if you care to.

Some time ago, I turned my back to the whole contest thing because of financial and other reasons.  My poetry is never going to win contests and isn't going to be published by the kinds of journals or publications which most poets (myself included) dream of finding their work featured.  I am okay with that.  My poetry is not edgy, and it sure as hell isn't groundbreaking.  For the most part I write my quiet little poems and put together my quirk-free books, hoping a few people will find them interesting enough to publish---and I have had a fair amount of relative success in doing that.  What has not happened because I have turned away from the contest system is all of the following:

Anxiety.  I no longer obsess over my e-mails or count days since I submitted a manuscript.  I no longer worry about deadlines or researching presses in the hopes I might be a fit for them---something I rarely got right.  

Alienation.  Losing again and again at something doesn't just demoralize a person, it alienates them.  I am not talking about giving every child a medal.  I am talking about feeling I never belonged to the larger community of poets.  Every time I saw my friends get mentioned or honored I felt happy for them, but I also felt further away from them because I knew I would never have that kind of success, that kind of knowledge my work had hit the mark and made a connection.

Envy.  I am no longer jealous of people who win poetry contests.

Competition.  I no longer worry if certain poets I admire or respect have entered the same contest as me.  I can happily pass on news of contests and not wonder if I have cut my own chances for publication.

* * *

In my mind, all of these things interfere with being a poet.  Now, I was careful to say my mind, and I mean that.  My mind is not a completely rational device when it comes to this sort of thing.  I have a difficult time seeing things the same way other people do, even poets.  My issues have created for me a sense that I am better off, healthier without the anxiety, alienation, envy, and competition which poetry contests create in my head.  Some people can handle it and some people cannot.  Do I think I am the only person better off not participating in poetry contests?  Absolutely not.  I have met more than a few poets who are self-serving egotistical, soul-crushing stains, who do nothing to help other poets and will drain the life-force from every person they stand next to.  My belief is that you have met a few of them, too, but that doesn't mean we need to convince everyone to quit entering contests.

Do I think contests serve a noble cause? Yes.  Some contests enable presses the ability to publish work which might otherwise go unnoticed by the poetry community at large.  Martin Scorsese said, I like to make a movie that earns a lot of money so I can turn around and make a film."  A well run poetry contest makes money for the greater good, and I used to look at my entry fees as donations to the cause.  Unfortunately, the four horsemen of my poetry apocalypse I mentioned above turned my good will into piles of frustration.  Instead, I buy books.  I buy books and I give books away.  If I buy a poetry book and I like it, I put it on my shelf behind my teacher desk in my classroom.  If I don't, I eventually find a new home for it.  I mail it off to someone who might like it better.

Of course I cannot speak for you or any other poet.  All I can tell you is how coming to terms with the sort of poetry I write and the realities of the poetry community's landscape has made me a better poet and a better person.  All the best.

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